Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kleptomaniac Hero

I confess.  Where it comes to the RPG cliche, "The Higher the Hair, the Closer To God," I have nothing to say.  It is a visual cliche, I don't have any real connection with anime and I'm just going to skip it.

That brings us to:

"Garrett's Principle:" Let's not mince words: you're a thief. You can walk into just about anybody's house like the door wasn't even locked. You just barge right in and start looking for stuff. Anything you can find that's not nailed down (or on fire) is yours to keep. You will often walk into perfect strangers' houses, lift their precious artifacts, and then chat with them like you were old neighbors as you head back out with their family heirlooms under your arm. Unfortunately, this never works in stores.

Morality in D&D has always been highly questionable, but all the more so when characters of so-called 'good' alignment casually walk off with the same treasure as any other character at the adventure's end.  Thou shalt not kill ... actually, its more of a guideline.  Thou shalt not steal ... listen, on the QT, this one is really for the common folk - don't you worry about it, I know you're going to have to take stuff to get the job done.

I don't play alignments, so for the most part I don't give a shit about whether my players are decent people or not - nor do they.  And treasure IS a central feature of the game's dynamic, along with ripping off the prized possession of every temple and isolated tribe from here to Panjot.

Admittedly, some players do possess a certain righteousness where it comes to treasure - thinking about the second Indiana Jones film, the 'right' thing is done by taking the stone from the evil cult and giving it back to the peaceful village ... but no one questions, ever, how this particular peaceful village obtained the stone in the first place.  They obviously did not dig it out of the ground.  Given the early history of India, I find it more likely that the bad people who like to burn people up are actually the legitimate owners ... having probably been given the stone by Shiva thousands of years earlier - who's nickname is, after all, the 'Destroyer,' and not the 'Happy Village Giver.'

Origins are important.  It is particularly laughable when Indiana, at the beginning of movie 3, shouts righteously about the Cross of Coronado (or whatever damn thing it was), "THAT SHOULD BE IN A MUSEUM!"  And then makes sure that it goes to one - an American museum, of course.  Not a Mexican Museum.  Or a Spanish Museum.  Oh no.  Let's not get crazy with our righteous indignation.

My point is that treasures actually originate from somewhere.  Tell me if this sounds familiar.  A village is raided by a party of seventy-five kobalds; the villagers appeal to the strong-looking party members to help them, and the party goes out and does that deed well, slaughtering the bad guys and plundering the treasure. They return to the village, who cheer and welcome the conquering heroes with a great feast.  The heroes re-equip and head on their happy way.

So let me get this straight.  The kobalds steal the villager's wealth; then the party steals the villager's wealth from the kobalds, calling it treasure.  They don't give ANY of it back to the village, and in gratitude for this great achievement, the villagers give food and entertainment.  Hurm.

Naturally, parties view that sort of selflessness as 'payment' or some such ... the village is rid of the kobalds, right?  Heck, they can make more money next year.  I need a sword now.  What's the problem?

Players do have a bit of a blind spot where it comes to this sort of thing.  The treasure I described in the last post, that my party just collected from the drow and their goblin horde was itself collected from neighboring hexes - and the people dwelling in the party's fief - over the previous year.  Some 500 ordinary human and elven villagers (men, women and children) were systematically massacred one village at a time, and 800 more elves, humans and other residents were driven off from an area of about 900 sq.m., in order to amass the coin and other treasure found ... but I'm sure the party hasn't considered giving a single coin to the distressed families.  Not yet.  I'll point it out, and they'll hand over some token sum.

But in fact ALL of it originated otherwise from the villains who were just killed.  However well-intentioned the party might be, a considerable number of residents have lost their homes and their possessions and won't see them returned.  Which is all well and good, this is D&D.  But is it heroic?

Face it, the answer is no.  I don't have a problem, I've always argued the players aren't expected to be fucking heroes, haven't I?

Not that there aren't proud players out there who adhere to Francis of Assisi's inspiration of poverty, who would hand back the whole kobald treasure to the village - or, at least, their share of it.  Most times, these wonderful selfless players sort of overlook their association to the more possessive members of the party, while spouting such 'worthy' rhetoric as, "Each must come to understand the goodness of generousity for themselves," or "I am here to help them see the light."

Uh huh.  To put it another way, their character is there to shore up the left flank, and help these as-yet-selfish bastards the opportunity to enrich themselves, with your character as dupe.  You know, Father Francis didn't hang out with the Pope, or the Medicis, or any of the mulititude of self-serving Italians who were around in his day.  You don't aid charity by helping plunderers plunder.  Just a small point there.

Yet this is D&D, and we have to overlook things like hypocrisy and such ... good ol' Francis would have made a pretty dull player character.

As a DM, however, I'd suggest making the local NPC's a little less grateful to players who are just thieves who steal from the local thieves.  How about when the players return to the village, the villagers tone down the joyous celebration for a bit until the party answers a simple query: "How much of OUR stuff did you get back?"

It's a fair question.


Frank said...

An interesting thought exercise. I have seen a few modules that mention how much treasure is found beyond that which belongs to the villagers. Of course that still begs the question of what other villages have contributed (unwillingly) to the treasure hoard.

One does have to put on some moral blinders to play D&D in it's typical style.


JB said...

Isn't this part of the reason for the locals price-gouging and taxing the hell out of the PCs? Sure, it's the rich getting richer at the expense of the common villager, but at least the "powers that be" are getting THEIRS.